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Us 8, Chris 2, Suzanne 2, Alfred Whittenburg 1, Norman Rockwell 1, Alfred 1, Mccauley 1, Solace 1, The Bulls 1, Cubs 1, Nintendo 1, Unwillingness 1, Dr. John Simmons 1, Egypt 1, Uncaring 1, Selfish 1, California 1, Barbara 1, Orchestra 1, Judaism 1,
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  LINKTV    Al Jazeera World News    News/Business. Independent global  
   news offers a variety of perspectives.  

    February 13, 2013
    7:00 - 7:30pm PST  

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i'm dr. john simmons and i'd like to invite you and welcome you to another session of beliefs and believers. we should have a fascinating class here, looking at the religious process. but we crossed over some themes last time, particular identity and relationship and religion, and i'd just like to ask you since our last class, did anyone have an incident in life, not necessarily religious, but something that brought up this idea of this fundamental nature of identity and relationship? anybody at all have an experience they want to share on that?
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yeah, janet? >> i went to a high school graduation of mother mccauley catholic high school this past saturday. it was very much a ritual event, and lots of prayers being said. >> did you notice what was being said though - i'm curious - what kinds of things were being said, anything that came out that you might have flashed on? >> it seemed like they were talking about - reminiscing about the past, but mostly focusing on the future, and what have we learned, and then how will we use it in our future endeavors. >> exactly. and i went to a wedding and saw the same thing - people talking about, in vows, the relationship between two people. love, i mean, you could spend a lifetime and do worse than just contemplate love, what it means in tererms of identity and relationship. and exactly what we're saying - very common things being used in here to do it. so just as kind of an ongoing homework assignment, look into that sort of thing, see if you can see some of the things that we're going over in class. anybody else have an experience
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along that line they want to share? >> well, we saw a movie, as a good example, and the movie was called, the price above rubies , and it's from the bible - a woman of valor is worth more than the price above rubies - paraphrasing it. and it really was indicative of fundamental religions in general. it basically was about hasidic judaism, but it could have been an example of any fundamentalist root that is quite exclusionary if you don't strictly adhere to its rules, and it can be quite cruel in many aspects. it can also have a tremendous sense of community. and the movie happened to be an extremely discussionable type of thing at all levels. >> and you see, look at it in movies. don't just think religion is about the major world traditions that we'll look at. try to see these things in the world around you in songs and movies as an ongoing assignment,
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because we want to make the case, especially as we move into the religious process, that indeed, this course is about religion, but the power of religion - and we talked about that last time - the power comes from the fact that at the very heart of religious activities, there are some basic fundamental activities that we all do, and i was just struck home with this identity and relationship. i mean, i was at this wedding and i'm supposed to be sitting there being semi-reverent and enjoying it, and i'm thinking, "oh! identity! relationship!" i almost jumped up and said, "yes!" but that's the idea is that you begin to look, and everything that people - the hymns they sing- at a presbyterian church - speaking of the holy, we left off last time talking about the holy - very much a - norman rockwell could have drawn this presbyterian church. it's just beautiful - you go in, the organ, the candles. i love where the couple came together and lighted the unity candles - unity - men, women coming together. we don't want to go
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much further with that - this is a family class. but you get the idea of it's a standard theme of coming together and unity and a wedding is a wonderful way to see this transpire symbolically. we'll talk, of course, more about ritual, but struck with the symbolism, tears of joy, and you think, "why are people doing this?" well, here we go, another key class theme from last time we'll cross over - rites of passage. it's a rite of passage - marriage. and i'll tell you something that's rather sad about this. i don't think i'm talking out of church or however you say that, but this particular fellow who got married, about maybe four years ago his wife died early of cancer. and i was in the very same church with the very same minister under very, very different circumstances, but a rite of passage, and the wonderful eulogy that the minister gave - again, who are we in the face of death? how do we relate to those who have gone on before?
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so it's, again, a kind of process that we want to look at. any other good comments? yeah, chris? >> i went to a concert over the weekend, and i felt not necessarily a religious spiritual unity, but i think when you group any large amount of people with the same interests, albeit a sporting event, a race, or a rock concert, or an orchestra, it's like you feel like you're not alone, and you feel really close, and you feel like almost a religious experience, or at least a place - a sense of being, and a sense of contentment, and things like that. >> you're so right, and what chris pointed out is something we want to stay with, and we'll touch on that as we go through these notes today - a sense of oneness, of being together. sometimes, as we all know, mob action -
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you saw what went over in jakarta recently - mob action, it can go the other way, that people can become - they can lose a sense of self, a sense of moral basis and things can go nuts. but on the other hand, you come together as a group and there's something moving about it. i mean, i'm, again, your jaded religious studies professor, but i have to admit that this wedding that i was not particularly involved in, and these little feelings begin to come - the tear ducts begin to happen, because you realize you've landed smack in the middle of what we're talking about - the questioning, the meaning, the purpose of life with rites of passage. so good point, chris. it's out there, it's all around us. and we don't want to say everything is religion, but we want to say that some of the most fundamental things that go on in religion, we can find in other activities. sure? >> over the weekend, i went home to nebraska to visit my parents, and as part of the memorial day, we went to the cemetery
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and put flowers on relatives, one of which was my brother, who was killed long ago, and i found it a very moving thing, and i thought it was kind of interesting that i didn't - i saw him again in a happy way. it wasn't sad. it was like i remembered him when he was little and when he was in high school, and to me that was touching, but it was a good feeling. but it was still having a relationship and knowing who you are. i don't mean to make this identity relationship mutually exclusive. we find our identity constantly in these relationships, and they change all the time. again, i was thinking about love at this wedding and it almost seems as though love is that place, that perfect synchronicity where identity meets relationship and there's a unity that forms, and it's at its best with human relationships - that could be one. but wonderful point. let me begin to move through the graphics, and suzanne, we'll get to you. i want you to always just jump in here with questions,
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because it's a rather extensive set of graphics and we even have a couple of roll-ins, including one of my favorites where i ride a camel in egypt. i'm lucky to be here. but this set of graphics comes from my work in the classroom. as i mentioned last time, people might think eight years ago we made beliefs and believers and put it on the shelf and i went back to my day job selling used buggies to the amish or something like that. but no, i've been in the classroom all along working with this. and if we could begin to go through the notes, the religious process came from my interaction with students. i mean, i may have the title of teacher, but i'm in this business to learn, and my students teach me about religion. so what we're going through here is one of the reasons why i'm so thrilled to be able to do a second edition of beliefs and believers because it's new material. maybe five - no, maybe three years ago; i was trying to think - how do you explain the why of religion? how do you explain
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why we are religion? we have what is religion on this, but also why, and here's a process. and as we go through this, reflect on how this defines what it is that religion is and why we go through it. first off, some key class things. we're talking about the pervasiveness of religion. we're talking about spirituality and human experience, and we're trying to make the case that all people have a certain sense of pervasiveness of religion. and another key thing we have here, as we move through the graphics, is the spiritual impulse. what is it in a people that makes them feel these sort of religious things, because if we didn't have some sort of spiritual impulse, we wouldn't have religion - people wouldn't do it; we'd have some other kind of cultural construct. but love religion or hate religion or don't care about religion - the fact is, it's out there and people are doing it. so what i tried to do, bouncing off my students year in and year out in the classrooms down at western, is to say,
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"well, what is it to you? what do you find out? what is it?" and here we get this five stages of religion. i apologize for sounding like an academic with "stages of religion," but i wanted to go through these five stages, and you can check it out, see how it relates to your own experience, and please jump in here anytime as we go through it. but the stages we'll go through is first off self-consciousness - the fact - and we'll come back and go through each stage on its own; i just want to list them for you here. the first is self-consciousness. we are conscious of ourself, which makes us immediately more open to something beyond ourself. people will argue about this, but they say that my good friend, my dog, is not particularly self-conscious. i don't know about that - when she gets shaved every summer, she gets embarrassed and hides under the shed in the backyard. but for the most part, humans come out pondering, thinking - they notice the other. the second one is a review
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from last time, if you remember those key notes, boundary questions. because we ask self-conscious questions, these great boundary questions arise, and we'll touch on those. the next step is rites of passage, which we hit last time. if no other place, if nowhere else these boundary questions arise, they arise at times of marriage, death, these situations, adulthood, so we want to look at those. that leads us, in my thinking here, to a kind of spiritual dimension, a special kind of dimension like bodily dimension or mentor or intellectual dimension, that asks for a certain kind of resolution to these questions. and the fifth stage - last but not least - is that we begin to see the development of our great world religions. so that's the idea here. true, it's somewhat simplistic. i can imagine our great philosopher of religion, with his heavy-duty binoculars up in the ivory tower, looking down on this schema
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and saying, "ahem, way too simplistic." but i don't think it comes out of a great intellectual effort; it comes out of my human experience, the experience of the students that i've been with. and i want to see your reaction to how these things work and why it is we would even have what we're going to be studying for the rest of the semester. so let me go on down through it here, starting with self-consciousness. a good way, a simple way, but a clear way to think about this is that we have a kind of a conflict in our human nature. we are at once apart - chris said it; he went to a concert, he felt a sense of unity. we want, we desire to belong, we desire unity, and over and over again, as we move through this course, particularly the experiential dimension, we're going to see, in essence, i want to belong; i want to be unified. and when we talk about myth, what is an amazing thing? in almost every culture, we have alien nation myths -
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like the garden of eden, that said one time we had it, we screwed up, swoosh, we're out, but boy, would we like to get back on that side of paradise. and why is that? well, it has something to do with this dichotomy of human nature - we want to belong. at the same time, we're apart, we're individuals - we have our own - we have an identity that is separate from the other, and so that raises up these kinds of questions, these boundary questions. we're at once a part of something, we're a part of the human race, a club, a group-at the same time, we're separate; kind of a key thing. now moving on down through these boundary questions, then. let's think about those - we touched on those last time. because we're self-conscious and apart, these key questions come up. who am i? boy, think again, if you're a person who belongs to a religious organization, how often that question comes up - how much it comes up
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in young people, how much it comes up in adolescence, how much it comes as you're facing mortality - who am i? and then of course, the relational question: who are you? who are you? what is your relationship to me? how am i supposed to treat you? do you begin to see how these things filter into a lot of the problems in our society? questions like racism and sexism and oppression of people? because they're fundamental, and that's what we want to work on here. meaning - the why question - why are we here? what are we doing? and next on the list, as we're going down through it, the all purpose question - how? how do i go about conducting my life? and we can continue on down, as we move through the graphics. if we want to know how, why, then we need some sort of orientation to the space and place around us in the world. religion, if you think about it, steps in there. but we all need that; we all need to know where we belong, how we belong,
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what our purpose is, who are our friends, who aren't our friends - all of these sorts of questions seem to be fundamental. who is a white sox fan? who is a cubs fan? who's for the bulls, and who's for that horrible team from somewhere over in indiana? i mean these are the kinds of questions that live on the very surface level - we don't want to date the teleclass here - but they are questions that then must be fundamental to our human endeavor. other ones that we've mentioned and we'll talk about with the doctrinal dimension - death, suffering, and change - that these are troublesome things; they're things that we are confronted with, that come out in rites of passage, and they raise up questions about meaning and purpose and how we go about it. so religion steps in there. see, i'm just trying to move along here in a process, and get us to a place where we can begin to think if indeed this is fundamental to human nature,
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and then therefore a way to enter in and understand the religious impulse, and therefore a way to then begin to explain why we have major world traditions and other sorts of meaning systems. so that's where we're headed. so my third step, then, fits in. remember i was saying that, okay, you're the most jaded, uncaring, nonreligious person in the world, but at some point in your life, faced with death, suffering or change, or any numbers of things, rites of passage emerge and they force boundary questions. so we see at times a rites of passage, these kinds of - this religious effervescence, this bubbling up of ideas begins to occur. and does it get bottled? does it get bottled in a hindu bottle? in a christian bottle? in a buddhist bottle? well, we want to think about that as we go through. so just a few of these that we've already mentioned. we have birth - psychiatrists tell us it's a great trauma. i don't really
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remember it myself, but as i mentioned in the previous class, i remember when my first daughter was born, and whoa! that's a very powerful thing, to take your baby - and i was the first one to hold her after the doctor - "oh, you haven't fainted yet? okay. here. take this. go down the hall." that was california; it was pretty liberal down there. so i'm walking down the hall with this thing going, "whoa! what do i do? what do i do?" take it down to the nurse. but birth's a powerful thing. coming to adulthood - and notice here how religion steps in, like the marriage ceremony, the wedding i went to over the weekend; religion quite naturally steps in with its various rituals here. grouping things - again we're back to belonging - but our family, marriage, mating - these sorts of ideas. let's think about sex for a while-but not too long; again, it's a religion class. but all the different things and different cultures
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and trials and tribulations that come about how it is we're to conduct ourselves - male, female, or any numbers of different combinations of relationships - and that's at the tip of the controversies in our society today. i don't think we're getting far afield with religion. i mean, people say, "oh, it's a private affair; it doesn't matter." but the case we're trying to make is, "oh, yes indeed it matters!" because it cuts to the very core of our inquiry about ourselves. it doesn't mean that science doesn't also do this and psychology doesn't have a way of reasoning it, but religious seems to from the start have this sort of fundamental way, so you've got a grouping. oh, sure, jump in here. >> well, don't we really choose religion or not choose religion? i mean, some of these things that you said, i mean, one can not be a strictly religious person and still have a sense of unity, a sense of oneness, a sense of community, a sense of belonging, a sense of wonder, and rites of passage. but don't - i mean, what it really
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comes down to the nitty-gritty, i mean, we either choose to be religious - and you said we can be a good person and not be religious, but isn't it really a matter of choice that you want to believe in something greater and beyond and mysterious? >> this is a wonderful point, and the neat thing here is because you're always anticipating where we're going. and i want - when we finish up this stages, these five stages, i think you'll say, "yeah, indeed you're right - we do choose. but those fundamental questions are things we still have to deal with." now whether you want to relate to it in one sense to, okay, i get my answers from a transcendent source-that is, defined within a religious context, that is a choice. now, sometimes you don't have much choice, and we're going to talk about different styles of religion here, but i want to get back to that because it's a very good question. chris, i saw you, and then we'll get suzanne here? >> in answer to her comment, i would say you don't need to be necessarily - i don't think you need to have a religion to deal with
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these questions of religiosity or whatever you call it. so i think that yes, it is a choice, but i think more and more today, people are filling that with other things, and so i think that that's developing into a religion, just as long ago in history, people had these fundamental questions, and so in its place, there came myths and answers, and even now today we're seeing the same thing happening. >> well, now i want to hold - we'll get to suzanne, and then i want to go through this, but i want to get back to that, because in my 101 class down at western, i used to have an assignment, which is kind of a fun one - in fact, we may even have had it in this class; i haven't checked the syllabus recently - but to write up a world view analysis of something, and i would get papers in my class from people whose whole world is built around adventure comics, or a dungeons and dragon game, or a sports fan.
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i mean, people will develop meaning systems, and when we get to the end of these graphics, i want to talk about different styles of religion here. but your question raises a very serious issue, and it's one of the reasons why this particular set of graphics, as i said, came out of my interaction with my students, because i am a person - obviously, i've dedicated my life to studying religion; i love to study religion; i studied religion for ten years and had every kind of lousy job in the world in order to support myself until somehow i lucked into a teaching position. so yes, i see things from the point of view of religion, but i've learned from my students that it's wrong for me to think that everybody has the same interest in religion that i do. but really, as we move through these graphics, it suggests that but, people need some kind of meaning system to function. and oh, there's so many places we could go with this, because let's consider gangs; let's consider what really draws people into gangs,
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i had a wonderful paper done between intensive cults and intensive gang activity. and people say, well, cults believe in god or something like that. not necessarily. it can be a hierarchy, it could be power, it could be a charismatic leader. so meaning systems will bubble up, and what we want to reflect on always through this class is how religion moves into these. in fact, you're such a great group because you've anticipated the last graphic in this set already, where i want to talk about ordinary religion and extraordinary religion, and then move into different styles, which we'll get to here shortly. but suzanne, let me get to you and then we'll go back to these. fire away! >> and i'm not going to rest till i say this. really, it's been quite a week, but picking up on what barbara and chris said, it is a choice, and you're right, barbara, and chris is right - people especially in our country, or maybe the major industrialized parts
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of the world, are working very hard to fill it with other things, and i believe they're coming up empty. and the things that have come to my attention in the last week is a confrontation with my own critical frailty and vulnerability, and death and suffering and pain of other people. an elderly gentleman - alfred whittenburg, a dear friend and patient of mine - i was present to his dying, his transition from this life. and then a young person who i didn't know but whose mother is a good friend of mine who chose to exit by her own hand. i say this young person came up empty; this elderly person died full of hope, and they were entirely different experiences. now are we talking
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about religion here, or are we talking about spirituality? i think they're not always the same. but as alfred lay there in coma, i found myself borrowing a prayer from another tradition. there was his family, and touching him, telling him to stay if he would, go if he must, but know that we all are with him, and that we knew that he would ever be with us. now, i think that there are no atheists in foxholes, and i think when we are present to some things like this, or even close through other people or we have the experience ourselves - we know that there is more to this than walking around with video games and nintendo, and the bottom line economically for our country right or wrong. and i think in hard times,
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which even middle class people are coming in touch with these days with the economic revolution, the good news about that is there may be a spiritual resurgence of our people here, but this is the stuff of which life and death is made. >> thank you so much for sharing that, because that is a very real life statement and very real, i'm certain, to you, having gone through it. this is exactly what i'm trying to say, that eventually you grapple with it. now, how you want to define that meaning, how you want to define that saving source, that sustenance, whatever, that's very diverse. but also, your statement about suicide - now this just really, really hurts. i mean, i know it does to everybody; it certainly does to me -
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to see that sort of thing happen. or perhaps more, dare we say, demonically the kinds of things that have been going on lately where young children are going to the schools and just start shooting. what kind of rage, what kind of anger, what kind of loss of meaning, what kind of emptiness generates that kind of - >> in the presence of family, parents who care deeply, and friends, plus people who they knew, the unwillingness in our culture to share our deepest and - our shadow side, our darker things - who can help us if they don't know these things, and yet being present to someone sharing that about themselves is painful and hard at times. but i think maybe because we think we're called on for more than we think at those times, to listen respectfully and not have solutions
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but interest - love, if you will - and caring of this kind of self. >>it's just inappropriate for me to take something as personal as what you just expressed and put it into the context of this class, but i can't help but seeing what you're speaking about, again, is that we are so often locked into a very limited, selfish, ego-oriented, blinders on - oh, this is my life, this is what's important, why me, if only, what if - these kinds of things, that you're running around with this mental chatter, it just relates to a very small segment of reality. you move into a situation like you encountered, and it's a huge slap in the face psychologically. and to fit into the rites of passage here, well, i mean, the next one we have in the graphic is love and tragedy - i mean, two overwhelming things. we're going to talk about religious experience in the next class, but love - i just wish we had more definitions in our society.
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i mean, the greeks have made six different ways of saying the word; here, we just have this word that can go from the most perverse kind of thing to the most sublime. and then tragedy comes in too. the tragedy comes into life, and it demands meaning. i'm reading in the papers about this current plague on our society with the young people shooting in the schools, and you read about how do they get over it? how do they overcome the pain of-how do they make sense of it? that's what we're saying here - not to say everybody is religion or you need religion or you need one religion, but in the face of this kind of thing, you have to make sense of it. and we'll talk about evil in this class - not in a theological way - but we'll talk about a theodicy, or a need to have an explanation for horrific, awful actions, and we'll get to that when we get to the doctrinal dimension. but it is part of this.
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>> sometimes, i mean, how - because i've been in schools where they've dealt with a student's death, or even a student's suicide, or a parent's death who was present among the school - do you think - i mean, the separation of church and state at that time can really get in the way, because okay, you can't handle it in the catholic way or the protestant way or the jewish way, but that is where you find solace at times like this is in the spirituality of it, and perhaps for schools in our society, we need to come up with a language that is truly interfaith that we can talk with kids about this higher power, this bigger, greater than any of us. >> well, we will approach that subject as a difficult one, how do we break out of this trap that we're into with separation of church and state where we see - i talk about it this way, that it doesn't really matter how you exercise your spiritual body, so to speak, it doesn't matter whether you jog or wheth